You may have heard the term, seen the hashtag, or even seen marketing initiatives for it in your local supermarket. Still unsure of what meatless Mondays are all about or interested to learn more about this movement and what it aims to achieve?
Meatless Mondays is a global movement aiming to encourage people to reduce the meat in their diet, just one day a week, both for personal health and the health of the planet. The initiative was started in 2003 by Sid Lerner, in association with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
What can giving up meat for one day a week actually do, and what does it look like in reality? We’ll look at these questions, including some recipe ideas for mouth-wateringly delicious alternatives to meat for those thinking about trying it out.
What Is Meatless Monday?
The Meatless Monday campaign, known as Meat Free Monday or Green Monday in some other parts of the world, is a movement to encourage people to eat less meat and eat plant-based protein alternatives, such as beans, instead. The idea behind it is simple: skip meat once a week.
Research has shown that people are most open to making positive changes on a Monday, and by starting the week out with an intention, and a day that may be unusual for some people, the rest of the week is more straightforward in not having to show self-control or make any special adjustments to diets. Not only this, but the intention set by skipping meat on a Monday can also lead people to eat more fruit, vegetables, and plant-based foods in general throughout the remainder of the week.
The campaign exists to offer free resources to people looking to start this initiative in their homes, schools, workplaces, or communities. These include marketing materials, recipes, and how-to guides, amongst other things. The initiative has been adopted by restaurants, communities, hospitals, homes, and media in over forty countries and is continuing to grow.
The Meatless Monday campaign aims to help people find innovative ways to make meatless dishes more a part of their diets. It provides a platform from which a community can form to share ideas about their progress and challenges, find support and connect with like-minded individuals.
What Can You Eat On Meatless Monday?
While the skipping meat part is clear, many people ask whether eating fish is acceptable on Meatless Mondays. Most would try to discourage eating fish, too, and go totally without animal proteins for one day in the week. This is not to say the day is vegan, too – eggs, milk, and other animal by-products are acceptable; the aim is just not to eat meat from any animal.
For some, this may sound simpler than it is. Particularly in cultures heavily based on eating meat and carbohydrate for their main meals, cutting meat out too can seem like a very unappealing option. Used to meat being the star of the show – the only tasty item on the plate – everything else just seems boring by comparison.
This does not have to be the case, and part of the aim of the campaign is to showcase how delicious vegetarian and plant-based meals can be and encourage a more regular integration of them into people’s diets. So, if you’re thinking about trying this out, here are some ideas of dishes that could inspire you and will hopefully get your mouth watering.
Black bean tacos with pineapple salsa
Butternut squash and spinach lasagna
Fajitas with corn salsa
Roasted tomato and capsicum pasta
Eggplant and tomato bake
Crispy quinoa veggie burgers with pea, basil, and mint pesto
Creamy mushroom risotto
Crispy tofu ramen
Roast vegetable and chickpea curry with garlic naan bread
Satay vegetable stir-fry
Mediterranean lentil salad
Roast pumpkin and ginger soup
The options are endless, and there are so many delicious recipes that you can find online and get creative with the vegetables in your fridge. If you usually eat out or order in, there are plenty of meat-free options for you to try, whether pizza, Indian, or salads are your things.
Is Meatless Monday Healthy?
For both the planet and for your body, yes! There is growing research showing that a more plant-based diet can help to reduce the risk of chronic preventable diseases, preserve water and land resources and slow down the adverse effects of climate change. By participating in Meatless Mondays, you can contribute to this shift and do so in a community that provides the social support for change.
Meatless Mondays provide health benefits for our bodies and the planet long-term. Being able to do something small now, every week that will benefit both us and our environment in the future is a powerful step to take.
Not only is shifting to a plant-based diet good for us nutritionally, but economically too! In general, meat is more expensive than vegetables, so adding more vegetables to our diets will help us save money too. But back to the point – health! Chronic diseases like type two diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity have less of a chance of developing with a plant-based diet, so cutting out meat once a week can help to reduce your chances of developing these.
With lower blood pressure and a healthier weight, more likely with less meat in your diet, what’s not to love?! Eating more plants, in general, can lower the number of calories consumed, especially those from fat, and increase fiber, vitamin C, and potassium intake – all good for you!
For a fun way to make this more tangible, think about this: Compared to someone who eats 100g of processed red meat a day, someone who doesn’t eat this could extend their lives by up to 46.15 minutes per meat-free day. So that’s almost an hour extra of life that you could get per day of not eating meat.
For the current level at which we consume animals, there is a detrimental impact on the environment in raising them to maintain this level. It causes an increase in greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and contribute to the depletion of natural resources such as land, water, and energy. Reducing the demand for meat, and therefore the amount of meat produced, will encourage healthy, sustainable food practices and decrease agricultural land use, which is good for the environment long-term.
To put things into perspective, these three facts might help you think about what the massive consumption of meat is doing to the environment. And before you use the argument, “I’m just one person, my skipping meat once a week won’t make a difference,” remember that this is a movement happening around the world. Together, people are making a difference.
Up to thirty bathtubs of water can be used just to make one beefburger! This includes the whole cycle, from what the cow drinks to production.
A piece of rainforest the size of one hundred soccer pitches is being cut down every hour to make room for cattle to graze. Such is our demand for beef increasing at the moment that we are destroying the environment to sustain it.
Almost a third of the land on earth is used to produce livestock. This is more land than people take up!
Not eating meat for one day a week can reduce your annual carbon footprint by as much as not driving your car for a whole month.
Not millions, but billions of animals are farmed and killed for meat every year, driven by our demand to see them on our tables. Most of them are raised in factory farms, which means cramped, overcrowded conditions with no room to stretch their legs or wings and no opportunity to breathe in fresh air or see daylight. These are very unnatural conditions and mean that these animals are often dying, injured, or diseased due to their environments.
These animals are often subject to mutilations, having their beaks or wings clipped and their teeth pulled out to stop them from hurting one another out of boredom or frustration. Reducing the number of animals that live like this is an act of compassion, and making sure that the meat you eat on other days during the week is free-range and sustainably produced goes a long way towards making reforms in the meat industry.
Overfishing and intense agricultural expansion are causing a loss of species and biodiversity. If current trends continue at their present rate, there will be a massive extinction of species globally in the next hundred years.
With up to twelve kilograms of meat being used to produce up to one kilogram of meat and many animals eating grains, meat-eaters consume a disproportionate amount of the world’s nutrients. Eight hundred million people on earth are currently suffering from hunger or malnutrition, but the number of grains that could feed three times these many people are fed to cattle, chickens, and pigs every year.
Surely it makes no logical sense to be destroying the earth and animals around the poorest people of our own species and us, just because we have a fondness for one particular? These are all great reasons to skip meat once a week, such a small ask for such a wide variety of positive effects across the globe.
What Would Happen If Everyone Did Meatless Monday?
There are several benefits that the world would see as a collective if everyone joined in the Meatless Monday campaign. Already, people in over forty countries are participating, making a tangible difference to the environment. In addition, those countries are likely to have a lower incidence of health complications that can be a burden on the healthcare system.
Environmentally, these are some of the differences that participating in Meat Free Monday can have.
More hungry people can be fed. About one-quarter of grains that are produced are fed to livestock. This increases the demand and drives up grain prices, which makes it less accessible to the poorest of the poor, for whom the majority of their diet is based on grains. Having meat-free days could help to lift people out of chronic malnutrition.
Save cows’ lives! The average person eats four cows in their lifetime, so you could save dairy cows from being slaughtered for meat and keep them alive by eating less meat.
You save chickens! For every fifteen meat-free days, you’ll not eat an average of one chicken. By not eating eggs either, you’ll save even more chicken lives.
Lower greenhouse gas emissions. Having one meat-free day per week for a year could save the equivalent gas emissions as driving across the UK, from London to Edinburgh!
Increase the amount of available oxygen. Every meat-free day reduces the global demand for environmental destruction, thereby saving land. Saving land equals saving the world’s lungs and trying to stop global oxygen levels from dropping further.
By including fish and seafood in your Meatless Monday, you reduce demand on these, and marine species are being saved. For every meat-free day you have, you essentially create an 11.7m2 marine reserve! In addition, the average meat-eater eats roughly one aquatic animal per day, so giving up seafood one day a week saves a bunch of marine life over time.
Save water! The average meat-eating person uses the equivalent of sixteen Olympic-sized pools of water through the meat agriculture that they will consume in their lifetimes.
This is all on an individual level. Each person can have a genuine impact, so imagine the impact of people in forty countries and how much more it could be collected as more people in more countries get involved. Getting your school, workplace, or organization to go meat-free for a day a week can have a powerful impact on the environment.
Is Going Meatless Healthy?
You may have been raised in a household or a culture where you were taught that eating meat every day is a healthy form of protein that a healthy body requires. While your body does need protein, and eating certain meats in moderation can be healthy, it is not a blanket statement that is true for all forms of meat, all the time.
While people who don’t eat meat generally eat fewer calories, less fat, and weigh less, this does not mean they are unhealthy or undernourished. Everyone does indeed need protein, and whether you eat meat or not largely determines where your body gets most of its protein from.
If you don’t eat meat, you can still be healthy, as your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, vitamins, and fiber are likely to increase. However, to maintain a balanced diet, enough beans, peas, and legumes, unsalted nuts and seeds, and eggs, low-fat milk, and milk products such as yogurt will need to be consumed as an alternative source of protein. Tofu is also a great source of vegan protein.
Going totally meatless requires a change in diet and the correct substitution of protein to ensure that you’re eating a balanced diet. But, done properly, it is a healthier diet overall, with fewer fats and a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, strokes, obesity, and diabetes.
Meatless Mondays are such an easy initiative to be a part of and allow you as an individual and part of the greater global community to have a tangible impact on both your health and the environment. If you’re looking to learn just how tangible this effect can be, look at this calculator and then decide whether it’s worth the change.